It was chimpanzees versus humans. The game was simple. The players had to choose either the left or right square on a video screen. Both players did not know the other’s choice. Player A won if he or she correctly matched player B’s choice. Player B won if player A’s choice did not match.
It turns out chimpanzees absolutely smash humans when playing face-to-face game-theory computer games. In fact, the chimpanzees came close to equilibrium prediction levels – accurately predicting the correct answer statistically every time.
According to the researchers, the results of the experiment mimic the way chimpanzees live and thrive in the wild. “The results are consistent with a tentative interpretation of game theory as explaining evolved behavior,” the study says. “With the additional hypothesis that chimpanzees may retain or practice a specialized capacity to adjust strategy choice during competition to perform at least as well as, or better than, humans have.”
By studying chimpanzees in the wild, one can see the evolutionary advantage of this cognitive ability and how it manifests itself in their everyday life.
“In the wild, great apes engage in many competitive strategic interactions such as predatory stalking, young chimpanzee wrestling, border patrolling…raiding crops from human farms, and play chasing (“tag”),” the scientists write. “Because competitive payoff games are common in chimpanzee life, evolutionary theory predicts that chimpanzees would have developed cognitive adaptations to detect patterns in opponent behavior and to create predictability in their own behavior.”
The Role of Language
In contrast, the scientists theorize, humans developed language, so our propensity to think and act in this manner has waned.
“The evolutive interpretation is that equilibrium game theory will apply particularly well to strategy choices that are finely honed by evolutionary value and (for the chimpanzees) regularly practiced in development and into adulthood,” the researchers argue.
“However, it is notable that in our protocol humans are deliberately deprived of an extraordinary cognitive ability: language. In competitive games, language cannot increase group rewards. But in games requiring coordination and cooperation, where language is particularly useful in our ecology, the evolutive prediction is that humans will outperform other species.”
Chris Martin, Courtesy of Primate Research Institute
Note: The Nonhuman Rights Project does not endorse experimentation on captive animals. However, we do quote the results of these experiments when they help make the case that the animals have a level of sentience, self-awareness, and, in some cases, a theory of mind, that demonstrates that we should not keep them in captivity in the first place.